Rethinking The Oreo For Chinese Consumers

“It turns out that if you didn’t grow up with Oreos and develop an emotional attachment to the cookie, it can be a weird-tasting little thing. And this started a whole process in the Chinese division of Kraft of rethinking what the essence of an Oreo really is.” (via Planet Money : NPR).

Children’s A.D.D. Drugs Don’t Work Long-Term

English: Ritalin package. Deutsch: Ritalin-Fal...

Psychologist L. Alan Sroufe,  professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development: “Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.”  (via

When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn’t The Whole Story

Fluoxetine HCl 20mg Capsules (Prozac)

‘ “Chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking. It’s much more complicated than that,” says Dr. Joseph Coyle, a professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. “It’s really an outmoded way of thinking.”

…Still, the story of serotonin remains. Why does it continue to have such a powerful grip on the popular imagination?’ (via NPR).

At Sundance, there was ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and then there was everything else

“The standout of this year’s Sundance and among the best films to play at the festival in two decades, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” isn’t an obvious studio-dependent title. Directed by Benh Zeitlin, who wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, the film is a magical realist tale, as well as a hero’s journey, set in a gloriously mythologized part of southern Louisiana nicknamed the Bathtub. There, a 6-year old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, a sensational find), lives in a state of grace and wonder with her hard-boozing father, Wink (Dwight Henry), amid wandering (and later cooked) chickens, stumbling drunks and rampaging creatures.

This is the first feature from Mr. Zeitlin, a Queens native who grew up in Westchester County, graduated from Wesleyan University and counts among his influences Mr. Malick, John Cassavetes and Emir Kusturica. After a stint working in the Czech Republic for another inspiration, the animator Jan Svankmajer, Mr. Zeitlin made his way, post-Katrina, to southern Louisiana, where he shot “Beasts” with a collective called Court 13. (“More of an idea than an organization,” as Mr. Zeitlin puts it, Court 13 takes its name from a Wesleyan squash court that he and some friends commandeered.) Shot on Super 16-millimeter film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is hauntingly beautiful both visually and in the tenderness it shows toward the characters, who live on the edge and perhaps somewhat in Hushpuppy’s head.” (via NYTimes)

Automatic Death

“The Navy is testing an autonomous plane that will land on an aircraft carrier. The prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many.” (via LA Times)

What does Nancy Pelosi know about Newt?

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States Hou...

‘Whenever someone plays all coy like “I know something you don’t know, nah-nah-na-nah-nah” it’s always maddening, but when the subject of the withheld secret is disgraced former Speaker of the House, Newton Leroy Gingrich, and the holder of the keys to that mystery taunting the American electorate is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—who was on a House ethics committee that investigated Gingrich for a year and who looked at thousands of pages of documents—it’s got to be pretty explosive.

So far Pelosi has twice—not once, but twice—come right out and point-blank told the country that she knows “something” about Gingrich that insures that he will never become the President of the United States. As in never, ever, it ain’t gonna happen, no way, Jose, never, nope, sorry, uh-uh.’ (via Dangerous Minds).

Depression’s Criteria May Be Changed to Include Grieving

HONG KONG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 27: 78 years old T...

“In a bitter skirmish over the definition of depression, a new report contends that a proposed change to the diagnosis would characterize grieving as a disorder and greatly increase the number of people treated for it.” (via NYTimes).

As readers know, I have done intermittent coverage of the proposed revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the official ‘bible’ of psychiatric diagnoses in US practice and currently awaiting its 5th edition. While lat week’s scandal was about the possible contraction of the definition of autism (which has many parents and patient advocates up in arms about the potential loss of qualifications for services for thousands), most of the suggested changes have one thing in common. They broaden the criteria for various disorders or create new, questionable diagnoses. In so doing, many more aspects of emotional life become medicalized or pathologized and subject to treatment with powerful drugs. Proponents of these changes claim they will allow the more rapid, preemptive identification of people deserving treatment. Critics claim that millions would be labelled mentally ill for behaviors previously conceived as normal, with insufficient evidence that they would benefit from treatment and needless exposure to the malignant side effects of powerful medications. Not to mention lining the pockets of Big Pharma.

Hollywood is the real big bad wolf

‘Hollywood is acting like the Big Bad Wolf by portraying the animals as violent man-eating killers in the controversial action thriller The Grey, wildlife experts are complaining.Liam Neeson’s big-budget gore-fest, which shows a wolf pack picking off plane-crash survivors on the Alaskan tundra, couldn’t be further from the truth, said Maggie Howell, managing director of the Wolf Conservation Center in Westchester County.“Wolves don’t hunt humans — they actually shy away from them,” said Howell, a biologist.’ (via NYPost).

No matter how much Neeson appeals to you, please boycott this film.

The End of Culture?


In 2006, Adam Sternbergh wrote a memorable and snarky piece in New York magazine, “Up With Grups“, disparaging “40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old”:

“This is an obituary for the generation gap. … It’s not about a fad but about a phenomenon that looks to be permanent. It’s about the hedge-fund guy in Park Slope with the chunky square glasses, brown rock T-shirt, slight paunch, expensive jeans, Puma sneakers, and shoulder-slung messenger bag, with two kids squirming over his lap like itchy chimps at the Tea Lounge on Sunday morning. It’s about the mom in the low-slung Sevens and ankle boots and vaguely Berlin-art-scene blouse with the $800 stroller and the TV-screen-size Olsen-twins sunglasses perched on her head walking through Bryant Park listening to Death Cab for Cutie on her Nano.”

But, while there are certainly some ‘grown-ups’ whose undying affectation of youth culture comes from some pitiful Peter Pan complex, I think the explanation often has more to do with this phenomenon. As Kurt Anderson observed recently in Vanity Fair, popular culture simply may not have changed that much in the past twenty years or so:

“Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. It’s even true of the 19th century: practically no respectable American man wore a beard before the 1850s, for instance, but beards were almost obligatory in the 1870s, and then disappeared again by 1900. The modern sensibility has been defined by brief stylistic shelf lives, our minds trained to register the recent past as old-fashioned.” (via kottke)

It seems to me that this isn’t across the board, of course. Music and casual dress seem to have changed less than, for instance, literary style, cuisine, automobile design, or film, off the top of my head. It is no accident that Sternbergh focuses mostly on what his so-called ‘grups’ wear and listen to.

Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?


A mind-boggling piece on Tatiana and Krista, 4-year old sisters in rural British Columbia, which mounts a serious challenge to our “one-person-one-mind” convictions:

“Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.” (via NYTimes).

How to Picture a Black Hole

“This month, researchers are inaugurating the Event Horizon Telescope, a project that will try to take the first detailed pictures of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

This observation would be a remarkable achievement, underscoring the progress that has been made in black-hole research in just the last few decades. As recently as the 1970s, astronomers still argued over whether black holes were theoretical constructs or real physical objects. They now have ample evidence that black holes are not only real, but abundant in the cosmos.” (via Wired)

Subculture of Americans prepares for civilization’s collapse

“…a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as “preppers.” Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.

They are following in the footsteps of hippies in the 1960s who set up communes to separate themselves from what they saw as a materialistic society, and the survivalists in the 1990s who were hoping to escape the dictates of what they perceived as an increasingly secular and oppressive government.

Preppers, though are, worried about no government.” (via Reuters).

Do some cultures have their own ways of going mad?

English: Pic of the DSM-IV English: My wife re...

I have always been interested in the so-called culture-bound syndromes, having come to psychiatry from cross-cultural studies as I did. Throughout my teaching career, I have always found the opportunity to  lecture on these disorders, since they are so bizarre and colorful. But I have not shared the sense that there are ‘unique’ ways of going mad in other cultures that are outside the framework of Western psychiatry’s official diagnoses embodied in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM. This is not, however, because I feel everyone’s distress fits neatly into the predefined pigeonholes. It is, on the other hand, that, the more I look, the more I feel that nobody fits the pigeonholes neatly, even psychiatric patients within my own culture. There are as many individual ways of going mad as there are distressed people. As someone once said (I’m paraphrasing),  it is much more important to get to know who the person is that has the disease than what the disease is that the person has. (via Boston Globe).

In more DSM-related news, independent website DSM Watch was served with a cease-and-desist order by the American Psychiatric Association’s legal dept. to stop it from continuing to use the DSM name. Vaughan Bell, of the excellent Mind Hacks weblog, scratches his head over the rationale for this. And Mind Hacks also points to this excellent summary of DSM in a hundred words from the British Journal of Psychiatry:


American Psychiatric Association

“DSMis an American classification system that has dominated since 1980. It is disliked by many for reducing diagnostic skills to a cold list of operational criteria, yet embraced by researchers believing that it represents the first whiff of sense in an area of primitive dogma. It has almost foundered by confusing reliability with validity but the authors seem to recognise its errors and are hoping for rebirth in its 5th revision due in May 2013. The initials do not stand for Diagnosis as a Source of Money or Diagnosis for Simple Minds but the possibility of confusion is present.” 

And Allen Frances,one of the shapers of DSM-IV who has become a sort of Don Quixote tilting at the windmills of the revision process leading up to the May 2013 arrival of DSM-V,  writes in the Huffington Post, Preventive Psychiatry Can Be Bad for Our Health:

“Preventive psychiatry may someday be of significant service in reducing the burden of human suffering — but only if it can be done really well. And the sad truth is that we don’t yet have the necessary tools. More people will be harmed than helped if psychiatry stretches itself prematurely to do what is currently well beyond its reach. That’s what is so scary about the unrealistic prevention ambitions of DSM-5, the new manual of mental disorders now in preparation and set to become official in 2013. DSM-5 proposes a radical redefinition of the boundaries of psychiatry, giving it the impossible role of identifying and treating mental disorders in their nascent stages before they have fully declared themselves. Tens of millions of people now deemed normal would suddenly be relabeled mentally disordered and subjected to stigma and considerable risks consequent to inappropriate treatment.”

R.I.P. Etta James

Etta James

“A lot of people think the blues is depressing, but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.” — Etta James, Los Angeles Times(1992).

“…[O]ne of the great voices in American popular music, with a huge range, a multiplicity of tones and vast reserves of volume.” — John Pareles, New York Times (1990)

NYTimes obituary here.

SOPA and PIPA Are Pulled (For Now)

SOPA Resistance Day!

“After Wednesday’s all-day protest of SOPA and PIPA, the bills that want to censor your internet, both bills have been shelved for further consideration, and will not be voted on as scheduled. Rep. Lamar Smith, the sponsor of SOPA, said he’s still committed to fighting piracy, but that this legislation isn’t the way to do it…” (via Lifehacker).

I’ve wondered…

A panoramic windshield on a 1959 Edsel Corsair...

…why, in the past decade or so, car windows and windshields have started to have opaque black margins, rather than being clear all the way to the edges as they used to be. Is this stylistic or structural? Does anyone have a clue? How would one go about researching the answer to this question? Anyone have any contacts in the auto industry to whom this query could be directed?

Unsafe abortions rise as contraceptive funding is cut

"Abortion is not Healthcare"

“Global abortion rates have stopped falling, ending a period of rapid decline that began in 1995. However, the proportion of abortions that are dangerous continues to rise. Paradoxically, morally conservative US restrictions on foreign aid may have promoted the abortions they sought to restrict.” (via New Scientist).

Why should we stop online piracy?



Matthew Yglesia: “That Congress is weighing bills called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) tells us that, at a minimum, the idea of stopping online piracy is popular.

It shouldn’t be. There’s no evidence that the US is currently suffering from an excessive amount of online piracy, and there is ample reason to believe that a non-zero level of copyright infringement is socially beneficial. Online piracy is like fouling in basketball. You want to penalise it to prevent it from getting out of control, but any effort to actually eliminate it would be a cure much worse than the disease.” (via New Scientist).

What kind of tourist are you?

Tourism's Merry Mountain
Tourism’s ‘Merry Mountain’

‘ “For as long as people have been able to travel, they have been drawn (…) towards sites, attractions or events that are linked in one way or another with death, suffering, violence or disaster. ” As disturbing as it may sound, chances are pretty high that you have been guilty of this so-called dark tourism yourself. Think about it…’ (via Getaway Travel Blog).

10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free

English: Human Rights logo: "FREE AS A MA...

Jonathan Turley: “Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.” (via The Washington Post).

The Milky Way Contains at Least 100 Billion Planets According to Survey


English: Image from http://planetquest.jpl.nas...

“Our Milky Way galaxy contains a minimum of 100 billion planets according to a detailed statistical study based on the detection of three extrasolar planets by an observational technique called microlensing. Kailash Sahu, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., is part of an international team reporting today that our galaxy contains a minimum of one planet for every star on average. This means that there is likely to be a minimum of 1,500 planets within just 50 light-years of Earth.” (via HubbleSite ).

LA City Attorney to Occupy: pay for brainwashing lessons on limits of free speech and we’ll drop the charges

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Carmen Trutancih, L...
LA City Atty Carmen Trutancih

Cory Doctorow: ‘The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has offered Occupy protesters a get-out-of-jail card: all they need to do to skip their court dates is pay $355 for private “free speech lessons” where they will be taught a highly selective version of Constitutional law that holds that the First Amendment doesn’t include the kind of protest they enjoy. It’s like they combined traffic school with Maoist “self-criticism sessions” from the Cultural Revolution to make something worse than both combined.’ (via Boing Boing).

No, SETI has not detected an alien signal from a Kepler planet

There was some buzz last week in astronomical circles that SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) had discovered a candidate radio signal. In this this post, Phil Platt (Bad Astronomy) explains why the detected signal did not originate with an ETI and, in so doing, gives an informative explanation of some of the principles of SETI.

Screen shot of SETI@Home (Enhanced 5.27) BOINC...

William Gibson’s long-overdue essay collection

William Gibson
William Gibson

Cory Doctorow on Distrust That Particular Flavor:

“By many standards, Gibson is a slow writer — his book publishing career is 27 years old, and consists of nine and a half novels, a book of short stories and this collection of essays — but he is a very, very fine one. His work has been seminal to many key moments at the end of the last century and the start of this one, and it is a rare pleasure to read his direct reflections on society and his work, rather than inferring them from his fiction. This is a fine and even essential complement to the Gibson canon, and a delight to read.” (via  Boing Boing).

Samoa Cancelled Dec. 31st last year

Chart from Rarotonga, Cook Island to American ...

There was no Dec. 31st in Samoa in 2011. At midnight on Dec. 30th, the country switched to the western side of the International Dateline (to be date-aligned with China, its main trading partner), thus setting the date to Jan. 1st instead of Dec. 31st. (via Discovery News). I wonder how many Samoans missed a Dec. 31st birthday.

Animals Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

‘…[T]here’s something remarkable and whimsical that happens when a fine art photographer takes her lens to Earth’s creatures — they become poetry. Today, we turn to five such photographers, whose portraits of animals — unusual, otherworldly, kooky, tender, charismatic — make the eye swoon and the heart sing.’ (via Brain Pickings).

Emperor’s-New-Clothes Dept.


LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  Philip Dukes hold...

Violinists can’t tell the difference between Stradivarius violins and new ones: ‘The test was a true “ double-blind” one, as neither the players nor the people who gave them the violins had any way of knowing which instrument was which. The room was dimly lit. The players were wearing goggles so they couldn’t see properly. The instruments had dabs of perfume on the chinrests that blocked out any distinctive smells. And even though Fritz and Curtin knew which the identities of the six violins, they only passed the instruments to the players via other researchers, who were hidden by screens, wearing their own goggles, and quite literally in the dark.’ (via Not Exactly Rocket Science).

F.D.A. Finds Short Supply of Attention Deficit Drugs

High Dopamine Transporter Levels Not Correlate...

“Medicines to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are in such short supply that hundreds of patients complain daily to the Food and Drug Administration that they are unable to find a pharmacy with enough pills to fill their prescriptions.

The shortages are a result of a troubled partnership between drug manufacturers and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with companies trying to maximize their profits and drug enforcement agents trying to minimize abuse by people, many of them college students, who use the medications to get high or to stay up all night.” (via

As a psychophwho did early research and treatment of the putative condition of “adult ADHD”, I have come to believe that around 90% of diagnoses with this disorder are specious. A careful clinical decision about whether stimulants should be prescribed has to go much further than simply deciding if the pt will benefit from (or enjoy) being on these medications, for that would be true of most people. Such care is rarely applied in the evaluation of those who end up receiving a stimulant prescription. While the NYTimes article touches upon the tragedy of auto accidents and job loss that arises from attention-disordered patients not getting their medications, I see patients all the time who are victims of misdiagnosis and misprescribing. This is no moralistic diatribe against “abuse”, which is often in the eyes of the beholder, but based rather on the real adverse and dire consequences, including strokes, seizures, addiction, depressive ‘crashes’ from abrupt cessation, and suicide. Not to mention the contribution to the shortsighed and pervasive promulgation of the paradigm that better living through chemistry is the only way to attain better living. We have crippled a generation of patients with such a message of pharmacological materialism.

The Buttered Cat Paradox

If a falling cat usually lands on its feet and toast usually lands buttered side down, what happens if you attach buttered toast to a cat’s back? Amazing the places you can go with this paradox. (via  Mental Floss).